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CU researchers discover evidence of very recent human adaptation

A Cornell study of genome sequences in African-Americans, European-Americans and Chinese suggests that natural selection has caused as much as 10 percent of the human genome to change in some populations in the last 15,000 to 100,000 years, when people began migrating from Africa.

The study, published in the June 1 issue of PLoS (Public Library of Science) Genetics, looked for areas where most members of a population showed the same genetic changes. For example, the researchers found evidence of recent selection on skin pigmentation genes, providing the genetic data to support theories proposed by anthropologists for decades that as anatomically modern humans migrated out of Africa and experienced different climates and sunlight levels, their skin colors adapted to the new environments.

However, the study found no evidence of differences in genes that control brain development among the various geographical groups, as some researchers have proposed in the past.

"We undertook a very careful study of genetic differences within and among major human groups, and aimed to explain why certain parts of the genome differed," said Scott Williamson, the study's lead author and a Cornell assistant professor of biological statistics and computational biology. "We aimed to eliminate as many possible confounding variables as possible, and when all is said and done, we find that as much as 10 percent of the genome may have been affected by one of these bouts of recent selection."

Previous studies at Cornell and elsewhere have searched for signs of selection -- the divergence of genes from a common ancestor millions of years ago -- by comparing an individual human to a chimpanzee or mouse, for example, or by comparing genetic variation in protein coding genes among humans to differences between humans and a chimpanzee. But this study scanned genome sequences that compared many humans to each other throughout the entire genome, with new strict statistical meth
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Contact: Blaine Friedlander
bpf2@cornell.edu
607-254-8093
Cornell University News Service
11-Jul-2007


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